ICYMI: SpaceX launches most powerful rocket in decades

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On Feb. 6, 2018, the most powerful rocket in operation was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. At 3:45 pm that day the Falcon Heavy lifted off from pad 39A, the same pad the Apollo 11 moon rocket left from many years ago.

<i> The Falcon Heavy rocket as it takes off from pad 39A </i>

The rocket itself was designed to carry astronauts, but the purpose of this launch is to test whether the Falcon Heavy can put objects into orbit. The unique payload was chosen by SpaceX and Tesla's own Elon Musk, who decided to use his own red Tesla Roadster to coast through space. Although the rocket is powerful enough to send astronauts to Mars, this test flight will take the Roadster and main engine on an elliptical orbit that will reach near the planet.

<i>Starman coasting in his red Tesla Roadster, awaiting the third engine burn to put it into its final orbital path </i>

Using reusable parts, this launch was significantly cheaper than other heavy lift launches: about $90 million. Compare the cost of the Falcon Heavy at $639.80 per pound, with United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy at $4,797 per pound at the cheapest (seven times more expensive!).

The Falcon Heavy lifted off with its 27 rockets, and then went through a series of booster ejections. The outer boosters successfully landed back at Kennedy Space Center upright on their two concrete landing pads as planned.

<i>Falcon Heavy’s outer boosters landing as planned back at Kennedy Space Center </i>

The center booster had a harder task of landing upright on a drone ship, but missed the target by 300 feet. The launch wasn't completely over yet, though. The main engine had two more planned burns to get the craft to its final orbit around the Sun. All three burns were successful, and the Tesla has now exceeded the original orbital path plan and is heading into an orbit between Jupiter and Mars, where the asteroid belt lies.

<i>Current path of the Tesla, reaching almost to the dwarf planet, Ceres </i>

The Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium has been featuring this story as it unfolds in the Wonders of the Night Sky show, and now includes video footage of the launch starting Feb. 7!

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